Saturday, July 2, 2011

Five Problematic Indus Signs of Nine Strokes

Seal H-473 with inscription: STRIPED BOWTIE WITH ATTACHED TRIANGLE / BATTERY EXIT (?) /
 VEE IN DIAMOND (the top of the second sign is unclear, making classification difficult).

I begin this post with a discussion of BATTERY EXIT (IX 11), an elusive Indus sign that may not exist.  It appears in the list published by Wells (as H-473), where it seems to be a singleton, occurring once only in Harappa.  This particular seal shows up in the photograph in the Corpus with a dark area between the two short uprights at the top of the sign.  Thus, I cannot tell whether those are simply two uprights, as in KP287, or there is in addition a horizontal stroke joining them.  My inclination is to assume that it is the same sign as KP287 (my VIII 10, which also may not actually exist).  Now, if these two are indeed the same -- KP287 and W483 -- then should they/it be grouped with the "exits" without any adornment (as on M-112) or with those that have two uprights on top and two horizontals on each side in addition (as on M-120)?

Proto-cuneiform URUDU, "copper," in three variants (from top to bottom, "a," "d," and "c.")

In any case, there are proto-cuneiform analogs for the "battery" shape, but none of these have the little "arrow" at the base seen in the Indus sign.  Proto-cuneiform URUDU is a square with a thin rectangle attached to the left side.  It came to mean "copper; metal."  Then there is a series of battery-like signs, ZATU 737, some of which have an internal line.  The meaning of these is unknown.

Detail from broken seal H-599 with inscription: POTTED ONE / STRIPED TRIANGLE / BISECTED STRIPED MALLET (or TOP?) / TRI-FORK TOPPED POT / POT (appearing over bovine with missing head, so there may be a sign missing too).

The next Indus sign in my list is equally troublesome: STRIPED SKEWERED TOP (IX 12).  This version of the "top," a symbol made from a square with a post attached on top and below, should have four stripes.  It appears in Wells' list in this form (W487), another singleton from Harappa (H-599).  A similar sign appears as KP275(b) but with only three stripes.  There are proto-cuneiform parallels, including one with a square body, AK~b, "to do," and another with a rectangular body, BANSZUR~b2, "table."  Neither has four stripes.  But then, the Indus sign may not be correctly identified.  It appears to be a bisected, striped "mallet," to my eyes.

Proto-cuneiform AK, "to do" (above) and BANSZUR, "table" (below).

The third sign in today's discussion is STRIPED VEST (IX 13), which definitely does occur.  It appears in the literature as KP309, W498, and Fs L-1.  The version depicted by Koskenniemi and Parpola has two horizontal stripes and two verticals as well, internally.  Wells shows three versions, the "a" variant containing a single horizontal and three verticals, the "b" variant with a single horizontal (9 strokes), three verticals, and an "X" shaped top (9 strokes), and the "c" variant including the same three verticals and single horizontal but with additional striping in the top sections (15 strokes).  The "c" version should be classified with later signs containing fifteen strokes, not here.  Wells notes 17 occurrences of all types combined, with seven from Mohenjo daro (five of which are the "c" variant), nine from Harappa (three of which are "c" types), and one from Kalibangan (another "c").  I see at least 15 from the second of these cities and possibly an additional occurrence from Kot diji (Kd-8, which I listed once as this sign and a second time as something else).

Tablet H-800, sides A and B, with inscriptions (from right to left):
A: TRIANGLE / FAT EX / STRIPED VEST / POT;
B: THREE POSTS / CUP.

Fairservis considers this a representation of cloth that has been sewn or prepared in some fashion.  But parallels from other scripts suggest other possible meanings.  Luwian hieroglyphs include a sign with the same doubly peaked outline and either one or two internal stripes, used to indicate the syllable tu4.  In Old Chinese inscriptions on bronze vessels, the cowrie shell used for money sometimes takes this form or one like it (Wieger 1965: 376).

Two versions of the cowrie shell in Old Chinese, bao3.

But it is proto-cuneiform that provides the largest number of analogs.  Most of these are schematic renderings of an animal's head.  There is AMAR, "calf," ESZGAR, "young she-goat," and UD5, "she-goat."  In each of these cases, the peaks represent the animal's ears.  But it is TUM~b that is closest in shape, though lacking internal stripes.  It represents a quiver for arrows.  There are also a few obscure symbols that cannot yet be deciphered: ZATU 628~a, ZATU 629, and ZATU 675~b.

Proto-cuneiform AMAR, "calf" (top) and two variants of ZATU 629 (middle and bottom).

The next Indus sign is STRIPED TRIANGLE UNDER TABLE, also known as KP211 (and possibly also KP212), W420, and Fs K-6b.  Fairservis gives his example five stripes, making it an 11-stroke sign.  He suggests it depicts a suspended conical weight, with the meaning "sky high (heap of grain)."  Wells finds four occurrences in two versions.  His "a" variant contains three internal stripes and thus 10 strokes, appearing twice at Mohenjo daro.  His "b" variant has a single stripe, while the "table" has much longer legs; it occurs once each at Harappa and Kalibangan.

Seal K-1 with inscription: TWO POSTS / BLANKET / STRIPED TRIANGLE UNDER TABLE ("B") / SINGLE POST.

Despite the simplicity of the triangular element and the "table" portion of this sign, the combination does not seem to show up elsewhere.  The closest analogy I could find appears in Old Chinese representations of offerings made to deified ancestors.  In these inscriptions on bronze vessels, sometimes the presence of the ancestor in the temple is indicated with a triangle, this sometimes containing stripes (e.g., Wieger 1965: 371).  If the top of the enclosing temple element is considered the equivalent of the Indus "table" (a rather dubious proposal), then there is a Chinese "triangle-under-table."

Old Chinese inscription showing the presence (triangle) of the ancestor in the temple (top of temple and triangle are highlighted in red).  The ancestor also appears as the large eye on the tien1 character beneath the triangle.

Finally, I note Indus sign IX 15, VEE IN DIAMOND WITH ATTACHED TRI-FORK.  It can be identified with KP392 and W403.  Wells sees it as a singleton from Harappa (H-405).  It has a distant analog in proto-cuneiform MUNSZUB~b, which came to mean "hair, pelt, hide."  This Near Eastern symbol is also diamond-shaped, but has a whole series of "V's" inside, not just one.  It also has two prongs attached to the outside, not a trident.

Seal H-405 with inscription: VEE IN DIAMOND WITH ATTACHED TRI-FORK / BI-QUOTES //
CIRCLED TRI-FORK / CAGED FISH (?) (corner is broken off).

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